Book Summary: Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians #1) by Kevin Kwan [review here!]
The first book of the series, Crazy Rich Asians introduces the major players that are important to the rich and notable of Singapore society–and Southeast Asia as a whole. Nicholas Young, the favorite grandchild of Shang Su Yi, is rumored to be set to inherit the massive Shang and Young fortunes and is the most eligible catch in Singapore. But he’s already taken with Rachel Chu, an economics professor at NYU, who is woefully unprepared for the summer in store for her. Nick’s best friend, Colin Khoo, is set to marry Araminta Lee in an extravagant joining of two wealthy families. Nick’s extended family flocks to the wedding, meeting Rachel and only deeming her appropriate to speak with in the face of his cousin, Alistair’s, choice in date: Kitty Pong. While Nick’s grandmother remains unconcerned about Rachel until Nick declares his intent to marry her, his mother spends their entire trip trying to convince Rachel to leave, Nick to leave Rachel, and a variety of young ladies to steal Nick’s heart (and fortune). And in the background, things are not all pleasant for the elite of Singapore, including Astrid Teo (Leong), whose marriage seems to be falling apart despite any number of compromises she makes to help her husband, Michael.
Movie Summary: Crazy Rich Asians
With spring break coming up, NYU professor Rachel Chu is invited to go to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young to meet his family–and for the wedding of Nick’s best friend. Rachel speculates about Nick’s family, and plans to visit her own friend from college Peik Lin. When Rachel meets Peik Lin she discovers just how rich her friend is–and then more. She reveals that she’s in town for Colin Khoo’s wedding, and dating Nick Young, and gets a crash course in Singapore wealth. She attends a family party that evening and meets the Youngs, the Shangs, the Leongs–making a lukewarm impression at best. Eleanor–Nick’s mother–makes it clear that she does not approve of Rachel, and neither do the many young women who’d hoped for a chance at marrying Nick. But Rachel puts on a brave face and defies the challenges to her presence, until it comes down to a choice that Nick must make between her and his beloved family.
What did they change?
They definitely condensed the stories and gave less screentime to all of the main characters, making Rachel and Nick’s relationship the center plot. Astrid is the only other main character who really got her plotline–and even then, they changed it so that she doesn’t find out that Michael faked his affair to goad her into divorcing him, due to how miserable he is in their marriage. Peik Lin is different entirely, now more of a casual onlooker whereas in the novels she is the daughter of a major real estate tycoon who uses her connection to Rachel to learn about the next level of elites in Singapore. The first scene is different, as well, since it is Astrid’s mother who becomes owner of the Calthorpe hotel not Eleanor. Eleanor also doesn’t really get along with her sisters in law, as the family looks down on her background.
Rachel’s family history is altered just slightly. The revelation that Su Yi and Eleanor bring to Rachel is that she was kidnapped from China by her mother, leading to more intense emotions during her spiral at Peik Lin’s until her mother arrives to explain that Rachel is actually an illegitimate child instead. Nick does plan to propose to Rachel, but there is no moment of reconciliation where Eleanor agrees to the match. Instead, the book ends with Nick cutting off communication with his mother and grandmother altogether, planning to live in New York with Rachel.
What did they do well?
The extravagance of the homes, dresses, families, and more are absolutely stunning in the movie. Helpfully, the fashions and styles are also updated as there were several years of fashion shifts between the publication of the book and the release of the movie. The food porn, my god! The food is focused on just as much as the fashion in both boo and movie and for good reason! Colin and Araminta’s wedding plays out a little differently, but is still stunning and impressive in the movie. Most of the characters are true to the book, as well. Rachel is calm and collected, Nick is surprisingly down to earth but also a little ignorant of his privilege, Astrid is beautiful and aloof, Michael is a hardworking if exasperated man, Eddie is full of himself and obsessed with status, Alistair is flaky but nice enough, Kitty is over the top and wants extravagance.
What did they get wrong?
By condensing and changing some of the characters, the film definitely went its own direction. Also, by maintaining the relationship between Nick and Eleanor at the end of the film, it closed itself off to fully adapting the remainder of the series. There’s a chance that a sequel would still focus on Rachel finding her family–as the second book in the series did–but it would have to be introduced differently without the dramatic reconciliation between Eleanor and Nick. Eddie’s character was introduced but spent very little time on screen, which is a shame considering his character is one of the most important in the next two books. Peik Lin’s career wasn’t introduced or set up at all. In the end credits there is a scene that introduces Charlie Wu, but he played a much larger part in the story of Astrid and Michael’s marriage–the movie also doesn’t show the part where Michael is faking the affair, so any sequel would have to address this or go in a whole new direction.
I fell in love with the movie first, but the book was phenomenal and absolutely worth its adaptation. A little part of me wishes they’d adapt the entire book series by Kwan into a TV series (keeping all the same actors from the movie if possible) but I’m content with what there is. I would be excited to hear there are sequels coming for the movie, as I believe is rumored. The books, though, are so much more dynamic and take so much more time and thought to explain what’s happening. For example, as visually enticing as the scene in the beginning of the movie is, Nick says “Radio One Asia” without ever explaining who or what she is. As it turns out, Radio One Asia is the nickname given to Nick’s cousin Cassandra, who is based in London but knows everything about the gossip world. The girl who takes the picture in the restaurant that sets off the rumor mill about Rachel sends it to a few other people, who eventually get it to Cassandra, who starts the rumor that Rachel is from the Taiwanese Plastics Chus. It’s little changes like that to the movie that may intrigue people who’d read the books before, but also don’t do justice to the complex world Kwan presents.